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November 9, 2011

Freshman QB Layman thrown into the fire

Pop up thunderstorms are fairly common during the August months in Pittsburgh. The number of times the Robert Morris Colonials have been chased off of the field at Joe Walton Stadium because of a random thunderstorm is fairly high.

But Shadrae King remembers one from this past camp, not because of the power of the storm, but because of how one of the freshmen quarterbacks spent the time waiting it out.

"We all came up here, and I look over at him, and he's in his playbook. He's still learning," the senior tight end said. "He's running around, just in case we go back out. He's asking the coaches, 'Hey, on this play, what's my reads?'"

The quarterback was Matt Layman, a South Carolina native who emerged as the backup to Jeff Sinclair after camp closed.

"He's one of those guys who you know is going to be a quarterback," King said. "You know he's really trying hard and strive to be perfect. Learning that as a freshman, that's a good mentality to have, especially when it's time to go into the spotlight like he did. That's what happens. He plays pretty well."

Layman made his debut against Liberty and received some mop-up work in other games, but on Saturday against Central Connecticut State, he found himself as the go-to-guy. Sinclair went down with a knee injury in the second quarter, and Joe Walton turned to Layman to try and bring Robert Morris back for the win.

"The way he responded, getting into the game, I thought he did great, especially for a freshman," King said. "I know when I got in my first game, I was nervous and I didn't run my route like I was supposed to."

Layman completed his first five passes - including a touchdown pass to Jamie Cobb - and finished 12-of-16 for 163 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.

Layman said the earlier cameos helped prepare him for the larger load against CCSU.

"It really helps to get playing time to get your confidence. Especially when you have great receivers to throw the ball to and a line to protect you," he said. "You feel really confident throwing the ball to them and stuff like that."

Though Layman entered in a tough spot, completing his first handful of passes allowed him to develop a rhythm.

"It really boosted up my confidence. With the two minute drill going in there, it's a really tough situation but I never got touched," Layman said. "The line did a great job and the receivers made great plays."

A strong start against Central Connecticut should be a nice step forward for Layman the rest of the way. Sinclair is out with an MCL injury, so Layman is expected to start at quarterback for the final two games against Wagner and Duquesne.

"It's kind of the same thing, but there's obviously more to it now," Layman said of the change in preparation. "There's not too much pressure. I'm just trying to go in there, make something happen, and hopefully get a win."

A 6-foot-2, 180 pound native of Hilton Head, South Carolina, Layman played high school ball at Hilton Head Prep. His offensive coordinator was Steve Fuller, who played for Clemson and the Chicago Bears, and his head coach was Pittsburgh native Ron Peduzzi, a Penn Trafford graduate.

The NFL experience and extensive coaching experience helped Layman develop his arm and his pocket presence. He said that though Hilton Head Prep operated out of a spread offense, some of the same principles with route running and the passing tree are the same, all thanks to Fuller.

"He definitely knew what he was talking about and knew a lot about the game. He worked with me a lot and we threw the ball a lot," Layman said. "The coverages are definitely harder to read and you have more athletic guys. It's definitely an adjustment, but it hasn't been too hard to make the adjustment. Hoepfully I can stay confident and keep making the right reads and the right decisions."

Layman has decent size and had the type of statistics that normally would have recruiters texting and calling like crazy. He threw for 3,538 yards, 34 touchdowns, and just eight interceptions as a senior and over 9,700 yards for his career as a four-year starter. But Hilton Head Prep is a small school, and recruiters thought Layman might only be a system quarterback and a product of the spread offense.

" They always say that guys who have those stats, it's because they run the spread," Layman said. "I understood, and my coaches really helped me and tried to get me to go somewhere. I wanted to play ball."

A family connection helped convince Layman to send his tape to Robert Morris. His uncle Jeff is the Robert Morris tennis coach, and Matt's father convinced him to send a tape to the football team. John Banaszak responded and started talking with the senior quarterback, and that built the relationship to the point where Layman made an official visit.

"I really felt like it was a good fit and really liked the coaching staff," Layman said. "Ever since then it's just been spot on. It's a good fit here so far, so hopefully it keeps going that way."

The undecided business major has absorbed all he can from Sinclair, Walton, and quarterbacks coach Camdin Crouse. And it was the lure of working with Walton, Banaszak, Scott Farison, and Bill Hurley - all with the types of experiences that worked out so well with Fuller at Hilton Head Prep - that helped convince Layman he was at the right place.

"They've been there before. They have the experience," he said. "Being around those guys, it's almost like a boost. You know they know what they're talking about and you can be confident in their system."

So now it's all about learning and gaining experience. Perhaps the biggest step will be taken in the offseason when Layman takes everything he learned from this year and applies it during spring ball, a step that King said is a big one for players in the Northeast Conference.

"It shows you how much film you have to watch, how much harder you have to work in practice. It kind of changes you, because coming in as a freshman from high school, you're the man," King said. "You were scoring all the touchdowns and stuff like that. Once you get to the college level, you have to know your role and you have to do your role. If everybody does their role, that's how we win games."

King said that Layman's pocket presence and throwing motion are already strong, and that if he continues to work, he could be a good one.

"He's mobile, but he doesn't have the threat that Jeff has against the defense. He's more of a passer, stay-in-the-pocket, try and find the guy coming across the middle on a broken play," King said. "He's a really good quarterback. I think as time progresses and he gets more experienced, he's going to be really, really good."

ColonialsCorner publisher Andrew Chiappazzi can be reached at achiappazzi@yahoo.com.

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